When I was starting my career, I spent a lot of time researching ways I could improve my images. Some of the advice was great, but a lot of it was white noise. Many of the articles listed out things that I either already knew, or wasn’t appropriate for the kinds of images I wanted to create. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re in the same boat, reading articles that tell you to “properly expose your images” or “make sure everything is in focus”. These are valuable points, but if you’re aspiring to be a photographer of any sort, those directions are a given. Everyone wants to take clear, in-focus images. The hard part is figuring out how to shoot images that resonate with people and with potential clients. Images that get pinned thousands of times, show up on mood boards, and create an emotional reaction with your viewer. Read on to find out three ways you can improve your fashion photography and create images with lasting impact.
1. Have a vision before you shoot.
This is the single most important part of executing a successful shoot. Your team is looking to you to provide direction, and without that, you’re going to end up with standard “fashion” poses, makeup that you have to retouch the heck out of, and styling that doesn’t make sense. You must take a leadership role and not simply expect to conjure magic out of thin air. The first part of this process is to create a mood board that clearly speaks to everyone on the team what kinds of images you’re trying to achieve. Your mood board should include inspiration images, styling ideas, and hair/makeup references. You can also include a photo of your location, digitals of your model, and simple color swatches. I can’t tell you how many times I went into a shoot with no plan and ended up with images that, while technically good, were not creatively compelling and that I wasn’t excited about.
Secondly, your creative direction doesn’t end with the mood board. You must be able to give direction during the shoot to keep everything on track. I find it helpful to create a list of poses I’d like to capture, usually in the form of pictures on my phone so I can show the model exactly what I’m going for.
2. Organize a great team.
Finding a great team is difficult work. Not all of us can simply call up IMG and ask for a model to shoot with. When you’re starting out, you have to be scrappy and willing to put in a lot of time to assembling your team. Model Mayhem is a great place to start, as you can usually find reasonable talent on there willing to work for trade. You can also call local modeling agencies and ask if they have any new models that need to test. Don’t be intimidated by the agencies; more often than not, they are perfectly willing to work with you if you have a reasonable portfolio to show them. When searching for hair and makeup artists, makeup schools are a great place to start. Many students are looking to build their portfolios and are willing to do shoots in return for images. Lastly, find yourself a stylist. Do not put the weight of styling on yourself, even if you feel you can do it! This will only take away from the energy you are putting into the photography, and will stress you out beyond belief (trust me). Reach out to stylish friends or local fashion bloggers and ask to collaborate.
3. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
I remember a shoot I did in the early stages of my career. The images were intended to be soft and natural, shot at the beach with lots of hair/wind action and loose clothing. I had done my research, organized a team I felt confident in, and found a great beach location. The shoot was going to be awesome! But as the day began, I noticed a few things that weren’t reading well in the images. The makeup was too heavy for the setting, the model’s hair looked overly stylized for our theme, and the clothing was not at all in line with the mood board I’d sent out the week before. For the record, none of the styling and makeup was “bad”; it simply didn’t work with the vision I had for the shoot. But I carried on without a word, not wanting to offend anyone or make waves. When I got the images onto my computer, I wasn’t happy with any of them. I still edited and sent them out to the team for their portfolios, but the images never made it into my book. I had put hours of work into this shoot and ended up with nothing to show for it. Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to say when something isn’t working. Fashion photography is a collaborative effort. Just because your team is working for trade does not mean you are locked in to shoot what they create- you’re working for trade too! So when the shade of lipstick on your model is too dark, or the jacket your stylist pulled looks bulky, speak up. Be kind, be professional, but speak up and offer clear suggestions. Simply saying “I don’t like it” is going to annoy your team and make you look like a jerk. This is not the time to throw a tantrum and scream at people. Be confident enough in your creative eye to know when something isn’t working. Most of the time, people are fine with making small changes so long as you treat them respectfully. Plus, they’ll end up with better images for it!
When you are planning your next fashion shoot, keep these three points in mind: Have a vision, assemble a team, and communicate changes when needed. You’ll end up with images that you are proud to add to your portfolio and that clearly demonstrate your vision as a fashion photographer.